In the 1970s, my 25- and 23-year-old parents could afford to buy a 3-bedroom house on a single salary for their (then) three children. Today, my daughter and I share a single bedroom, rented apartment. I’m not poor. I’m gainfully employed. But it's all I can afford. In my hometown I could afford a big house with several bedrooms. But I don’t live there now.
It’s sad to think that the highest standard of living I might have attained was when I was a graduate student in Texas and rented half of a turn-of-the-century house with columns on the porch, a porch swing, 14-foot ceilings, and a yard half the length of a city block. The kitchen had floor-to-ceiling cabinets and a heavy wooden table filled at all times with people.
I’m not sure how much longer baby and I will be able to maintain the single bedroom arrangement. But for now, we have a couple of tricks up our sleeves--and they do not involve videos, television (even Australian dancing men) or batteris.
Baby has her own space. Due to size limitations, it is a big cabinet in the kitchen where she also keeps her toys. Although it’s a risk that one day she’ll be in therapy because her mother stuck her in a cabinet to play, I’ll gamble. Baby teeters over to it every morning, first thing, and opens it up. Then she sits down on the edge and closes the door so that only her toes and fingers still out.
After a few minutes, she opens the door with a huge smile, as if she were inviting me into her house. She’s got her buba and her bunny and other (small) toys we bought in the crafts fairs or in the shuk in there.
As you can imagine, between travels, one bedroom apartments, and bad birthday/travel timing(we moved to Israel two weeks after the first birthday), we don’t have excessive amounts of toys. We’ve got somewhere between twenty and a zillion books, but honest-to-goodness toys, not so many.
So baby’s cabinet includes mostly homemade toys. Her favorite is s a shiny gold paper bag with handles in which she carries around lids, hair elastics, my old cell phone, sea shells—just whatever she collects during the day. And she’s quite the collector. This bag keeps her entertained for up to 30 minutes at a time, and she hasn’t tired of it yet. The ever-changing contents keep her amused from day to day.
We’ve got plastic yogurt container towers—they can stack up beautifully. You can take them to the beach for sand castle construction, and use them in the tub for making splashes. We’ve got metal lid” hockey pucks,” musical instruments made from old baby bottles filled with peas. We’re lucky we live within a five-minute walk of four different parks, and a fifteen-twenty minute walk from the beach. Oh, the beach.
There are also fashion shows,
laundry, coloring, and rough housing on the bed, planting window gardens and watching the birds and cats out the window.
I don’t really feel guilty when we visit other children and my daughter lunges at the battery-operated blinking, chiming toys, the endless piles of entertainment. I can tell from how she treats her (not-homemade) piano that if she had the toys at our home, she’d be tired of them in 4 days.